The ‘barbarism’ of the death penalty in S.C.

On Friday, Caitlin Byrd from The State tweeted out the above photo with this explanation:

The S.C. Department of Corrections just released this photo showing the renovated Capital Punishment Facility as seen from the witness room. The firing squad chair is on the left. The covered chair is the electric chair, which doesn’t move.

I was struck by how amazingly boring the photo managed to make such items appear. My friend Ashleigh Lancaster had something more interesting to say: “Weird thing to release on Good Friday, no?”

Yes, it was. And Ashleigh’s tweet reminded me that I had meant to post about the recent release on this subject from my diocese.

Here’s the entire release, to give you the full effect:

April 8, 2022
Statement from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston regarding the scheduled execution of Richard Moore on April 29
CHARLESTON, SC – The Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston released the below statement in response to the South Carolina Supreme Court scheduling an execution date for Richard Moore. He will be the first person executed by the state of South Carolina since 2011.
“The Catholic Church stands firmly in opposition to the Supreme Court’s decision and the use of the death penalty in South Carolina. Mr. Moore must choose his means of execution – between the firing squad and electric chair. This is modern-day barbarism.
“The tragedy caused by Mr. Moore’s actions is not justified by killing another human being. Justice is not restored when another person is killed.
“Capital punishment, along with abortion and euthanasia, is an attack on the inviolability and fundamental dignity of human life. Respect for life is, and must remain, unconditional. This principle applies to all, even the perpetrators of terrible acts.
“The Catholic Church will continue to stand for the inherent value of all life. We beseech the state of South Carolina to commute Moore’s death sentence and conduct a meaningful review of his case. The Church prays for the day when the state reverses its decision to end the cruel and unjust practice of capital punishment.”


The essential problem, of course, is not the choice — it’s the death penalty itself. That’s the barbarism.

Requiring the condemned to choose the method is just an added little sadistic twist. Personally, I’ve always thought the firing squad is a less objectionable method than the electric chair, and definitely less twisted than lethal injection. If you’re going to kill a man, be honest about the violence by which you are dragging all of society down to the level of his crime. Don’t do it by a mock medical procedure.

But bottom line, the whole thing is barbaric, and beneath what society should always strive to be.

Forgive me for thinking of a movie quote while discussing something so grim, but deserve’s got nothing to do with it. It’s not up to us to become killers in order to give him what he “deserves,” if we can securely detain him for the rest of his life.

45 thoughts on “The ‘barbarism’ of the death penalty in S.C.

  1. Brad Warthen Post author

    By the way, y’all may have heard that we’re getting a new bishop in this diocese.

    I don’t know whether the new bishop had anything to do with this or not. He fully takes office on the 29th.

    In any case, I would hope that any bishop of the Roman Catholic Church would take a similar position. Of course, I also know it’s not always that simple…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      This reminds me of something…

      In further violation of my New Year’s resolution, I’ve started rereading The Dirty Dozen. Which by the way, he says in self-defense, is a way better book than you’d think from seeing the movie.

      (I have it on my iPad, so it’s easy to backslide.)

      What’s different from most of my many previous rereadings is that I’m reading the beginning, which I haven’t done in many years. (I tend to just jump to the good bits later on. There are a lot of them.)

      The beginning when Capt. Reisman (not “Major” — they promoted him in the movie, I guess because Lee Marvin was rather old to be a captain) is sent to a military prison to witness a hanging.

      He has no idea why he was ordered to do this, and he finds it deeply disturbing — as does everyone else involved with the execution. Except perhaps the condemned man, whom the prison doctor has sedated, in violation of regulations.

      The fact that Reisman is so disturbed underlines part of the great difference between him and the character portrayed in the movie. Can you imagine Lee Marvin lying awake nights over such a thing? Not really. In the movie, he mostly seems to find it irritating.

      The younger Reisman in the book is definitely a tough guy, a hard man. He’s done a lot of killing, much of it as a soldier of fortune before the war. And he’s not at all bothered about killing Nazis.

      But there’s an element of human empathy there, resulting from the traumatic incident, when he was just a kid, that led him to run away from home and live this kind of life. On one level, he holds the prisoners he ends up leading in contempt. But on another level, he identifies with them. He has been selected for the job the book is about in part because a superior officer sees these qualities in him.

      You don’t really learn about the thing that happened when he was 16 until quite late in the book, in an extended flashback. (I was just thinking, as I started reading, that this book contains more flashbacks than any other novel I’ve ever read. A lot of characters’ backgrounds are explored.)

      Of course, you don’t have to have a deep, dark backstory to be shaken by this execution — everyone else at the hanging is affected, too. (It’s one of those situations that the prosecutors in Bonfire of the Vanities refer to as a “piece a shit case” — however it turns out, no one’s going to feel good about it.)

      Anyway… my point is that when I was myself a kid — I read this book when I was about 14, right after the movie came out — I don’t think I fully understood what it meant for him and the other men involved to witness that execution.

      I understand it better now. Just as I understand that movie violence is seldom anything like the real thing…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Some of the books I’ve been rereading (most of them currently) instead of reading the books I made the resolution to read:

        I assure you I’m appalled at myself. Bottom line is that I read a good bit; I just lack discipline in the reading. For instance, I still haven’t read the last Aubrey-Maturin novel. That’s partly because I hate to have none left to read for the first time (I was deeply impressed when I was young by something Hemingway wrote about having greedily read up all his Joseph Conrad, and now Conrad was dead), but also partly because I feel like I have to reread the book before it first, and that is the only book in the series I really didn’t love…

  2. Doug Ross

    Evil people like Dylan Roof should be terminated not as a deterrent to any other killers but as punishment for committing the most unacceptable crime: taking the life of someone else. How is it more “humane” to allow him to rot in prison for 50 years or more? How often does it occur that a prisoner on a life sentence commits more murders while incarcerated? There is no benefit to society for the Dylan Roofs of the world to be housed, fed, treated for medical conditions as he ages. And I am not interested in the “if you kill one innocent man” deflection. Roof is guilty beyond all doubt. His life ended anyways when he killed all those people.

  3. Doug Ross

    And, frankly, the most barbaric act a society can engage in is war. It is logically impossible to have a pro-military bias AND be anti-death penalty. War is the death penalty on steroids PLUS collateral damage in loss of innocent lives. There are no just wars if there are no just death sentences.

    1. Doug Ross

      In today’s NYT in a story about military drone operators:
      “Drone pilot, in NYT: “A fighter jet might see a target for 20 minutes. We had to watch a target for days, weeks and even months. We saw him play with his kids. We saw him interact with his family…Then one day, when all parameters are met, you kill him.”

      Justify that while wringing your hands over killing mass murderers following a trial.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Now see, there’s a comment that was extremely easy to change from one that violates the civility rules, to one that does not.

          I just cut off the snotty ending, “Try to keep up.”

          See how easy that was?

  4. bud

    I agree with Brad on this one. For many reasons. But above all capital punishment probably increases the number of murders by acting as a promotion for killing. Crazy people like attention. What better way to garner attention that getting yourself in the middle of an execution brouhaha. None of the pro capital punishment arguments even make sense. The cost of feeding and housing a convict is tiny compared to the endless court fights that can last decades. Time to stop this barbaric practice.

    1. Doug Ross

      We should also stop the use of snipers to kill people holding hostages. We should take away the weapons from all police officers as well so they don’t kill anyone in a barbaric fashion. Also we should immediately destroy all of our nuclear weapons (funny how climate change zealots are opposed to nuclear reactors but don’t waste time on disarming nuclear weapons)

    2. Doug Ross

      Can bud provide a single example of a murderer who used a death penalty execution to entice him to commit a murder?

      The reason it costs so much to kill a killer is due to the system allowing endless appeals. Change the system, the cost goes away. Carry out the will of the jury that decides on a death penalty without haste.

      1. bud

        And Doug throws a big, hanging curveball over the plate! Ted Bundy. A couple of nursing students were murdered because of this sick minded person’s infatuation with death. Bundt went to Florida BECAUSE of their tough capital punishment law. This was a big thrill for him tempting fate.

        1. Doug Ross

          So without capital punishment, Ted Bundy would have led a pure and simple life of say, a government employee, never even thinking of killing anyone. The fact that he killed all those women in Washington and Colorado five years prior were because of capital punishment in Florida. Go back to the bench, bud. You just got struck out by a Little Leaguer.

      2. Barry

        That won’t happen for obvious reasons- way too many people sentenced to long prison sentences later exonerated.

        Just a couple of years ago a man who had been in jail since the mid 1980s for killing his wife (highly unlikely since he wasn’t even in the same city at the time of the death) – a former school principal in a small town was let go because the blood spatter “expert” admitted that he really didn’t know what he was talking about during the trial and had only taken a couple of basic, rudimentary classes at the time on such evidence.

        1. Doug Ross

          The anecdotes don’t negate the cases where there is no doubt of the murderer’s guilt.

          The person who killed the cop in Cayce this weekend – when caught, tried, convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, deserves to live for 40-50 years in prison, right?

          Timothy McVeigh got what he deserved. Dylan Roof should get the same. Osama Bin Laden apparently should have been captured instead of killed.

          Meanwhile, you guys think a fetus with a beating heart can be terminated and that’s not barbaric. Bizarre.

          1. Doug Ross

            I learned that the cop killer apparently killed himself. Would anyone care if the cops had shot him instead during the standoff? If it’s okay to shoot in the act of a crime, it’s okay to kill a killer when captured.

            1. Brad Warthen Post author

              Actually, that’s where the line is.

              If he’s an active shooter, you might have to use deadly force to stop him from killing innocents.

              When he’s captured and disarmed, you no longer have justification to do that.

              1. Barry

                I am for the death penalty in a few, limited circumstances.

                Otherwise, I think it’s too unfair, too arbitrary, too dependent on the skill of various attorneys, too hard on the innocent family members on both sides of the case, etc..

                The instances I can support is are:

                Child murders
                Terrorist actions where people are killed
                Mass killings
                Murders where there is exceptional brutality

                I’d also only support the death penalty where clear DNA evidence exists pointing to the offender or of course it’s caught on video.

                Witness testimony, no matter how impressive, is too unreliable.

                1. Doug Ross

                  Define “excessive brutality”. I would suggest killing someone on purpose is brutal enough.

              2. Doug Ross

                What if you shoot the killer and he requires medical attention to save his life? Expend all resources to do whatever it takes to revive him and THEN send him to prison for the rest of his life? The logic is broken. Known killers deserve to die.

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    Nope. Because it would be a waste of effort and resources, because you’re planning on killing the guy anyway.

                    Here’s the harder question: Should the killer who is NOT on death row be eligible for a heart transplant?

                    The answer would still probably be no, but it would be based on a lot of other factors, including the cost, the availability of donors, and most of all the fact that society would quite reasonably value other possible recipients of the heart ahead of the killer.

                    But would I give someone who is serving a life term an aspirin? Sure…

                    1. Brad Warthen Post author

                      Earlier I mentioned that I’ve been rereading, along with other books I shouldn’t be reading because I’ve got NEW books to read, The Dirty Dozen.

                      The issue Doug raises is addressed early in the book, in the case of the man whose execution Reisman is ordered to witness. He was seriously injured at the time of his arrest. So they patched him up and waited until he had recovered before they hung him. The condemned was a rather simple-minded young man, and he thought that meant there was no way they were going to hang him. Why would they restore him to health just to kill him?

                      He was wrong…

          2. Barry

            “no doubt of the murderer’s guilt”

            The problem though is that many people exonerated had many people, including police, convinced they were 100% guilty at one point and time.

            “The murder of Mickey Bryan, a quiet fourth-grade teacher, stunned her small Texas town. Then her husband, a beloved high school principal, was charged with killing her. Did he do it, or had there been a terrible mistake?”


            “The expert whose testimony was key to Bryan’s conviction for his wife’s 1985 murder says he now believes that some of his techniques were incorrect. His admission comes as a judge considers whether Bryan, whose case was the subject of a ProPublica and New York Times Magazine investigation, should get a new trial”


            1. Barry

              The story – this is riveting

              His wife’s brother was convinced he did it. Police were convinced. Blood spatter “expert” was convinced the evidence was obvious. The town eventually believed he did it.

              30+ years later, the blood “expert” admitted he wasn’t sure at all and what he had testified to was “scientific certainty” in the mid 1980s wasn’t certain at all- and he also admitted he was no expert, even though attorneys had presented him as one.


              1. Brad Warthen Post author

                Technically, aren’t “specific cases” anecdotes?

                Not to criticize them. I like extrapolating principles from anecdotes, as long as they’re truly representative and illuminate the overall issue…

                1. Doug Ross

                  His anecdotes are not about the issue of whether anyone should be executed. You (and others) seem to believe nobody should be executed regardless of the evidence of guilt. His anecdotes are irrelevant.

                  If we can kill innocents and use “war” as the justification, we can surely kill murderers without hesitation. I’ll support no death penalty when we punish generals and the Commander in Chief when acts of war lead to deaths of innocents. Fair deal?

                  1. Brad Warthen Post author

                    In other words, you’re saying, “I’ll support no death penalty when we no longer have a military, and five minutes later, no longer have a country. Fair deal?”

                    But I know you don’t see it that way, and never have and almost certainly never will…

                    1. Doug Ross

                      Why would we not have a country? How do countries without our vast military power exist? How do countries with militaries only used for DEFENSE exist? Our military exists to line the pockets of defense contractors, not to protect our country from some phantom enemy.

                      You’ll never give an acceptable explanation of how innocent deaths from military actions are not as big an issue as killing convicted murderers.

                    2. Doug Ross

                      There have been 50 killers put to death in the U.S. from 2019-2021.

                      As of April 2021, more than 71,000 Afghan and Pakistani civilians are estimated to have died as a direct result of the war in Afghanistan.

                      One is barbaric, the other is just the cost of doing military business, apparently.

              2. Barry

                The above was a “no doubt case.” The guy’s own brother in law was convinced he was guilty. Prosecutors were convinced.

                The police “expert” was convinced- 100% – no doubt- until he wasn’t.

                A system built on killing someone based on the politics of the local prosecutor is not a system.

                It’s a screwed up bad joke.

  5. Barry

    Of course one of the major problems with the death penalty in South Carolina is the completely arbitrary way it’s handed out.

    I read this recently – a month or so ago, a man in Greenwood County was convicted of killing 3 people (including a child) and he was sentenced to life in prison.

    The man that chose the death penalty was sentenced to death for killing one person.

    Not death penalty related but a young man in South Carolina just got sentenced to probation in a rape case. His attorney? A state senator who gets to pick judges.

    The prosecutor? A man whose been trying to get a judgeship for years.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I really, really hate to criticize Johnny, but the first line doesn’t add up. If they’re still out there building the gallows, I’m thinking he’s got more than 25 minutes.

      His best song involving a capital crime, of course, is “I Hung My Head”…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        For a weak moment there, I almost composed a Top Five Songs About the Death Penalty.

        But I won’t.

        If I did, though, I know without spending any time on it that it would include:

        The Band’s version of Long Black Veil — Even if I spent a long time thinking about it, I’m pretty sure this would top the list.

        I’ve Gotta Get a Message to You — Probably the only Bee Gees song I’ve ever considered for a “Top Five” list.

        Bohemian Rhapsody — It has depth beyond that scene in “Wayne’s World.” Maybe.

        I’ll stop there.

        Since we’ve been debating the difference between the death penalty and imprisonment, my favorite long-term incarceration song is “Can’t Be Too Long,” by Grand Funk Railroad. Not one of their better-known songs, but it used to run through my head a lot when I had a construction job one summer when I was in college, working 12 hours in the sun each day in the August heat outside Memphis:

        The heat of a summer day, poundin’ down on my back,
        Work like a dog in the sunlight, tryin’ to pay the people back.
        I killed a man in the spring time; Had to work hard just to make a dime,
        To buy my baby the things that she needs.
        I guess I didn’t think twice, and now I have to pay the price,
        For killing a man of another creed.

        I liked Grand Funk better in those days, before their biggest hits.

        And of course, to get back to Johnny, “Folsom Prison Blues”…

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      And how am I doing on this task? Well, I have 722 to go.

      I hate email. I used to hate snail mail more, but would I have had this many pieces of that pile up in a couple of weeks? No. And I could have composted it, or used it to insulate a cellar or something. In winter, I could have used it to start the fireplace.

      Whereas all this email is just a useless nothing but an atrocious waste of time…

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        By the way, 2,000 is not a lot for this many days of ignoring it.

        Thing is, I didn’t completely ignore it. I tried to go through it a couple times, but didn’t get far. Otherwise, it would have been more.

        I really, really wish I could have back the time I’ve had to spend on this stuff over the past 30 years…

  6. Doug Ross

    Applying the death penalty to the 18 year old who killed 10 people in Buffalo last night would be barbaric. Better to let him remain in prison with access to a lifetime of medical care. That’s the humane response.

Comments are closed.